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Questions about Termination Without Notice

Most states in the United States operate under the doctrine of “employment at will”, which means the employment relationship may be terminated for any or no reason as long as the employee is not terminated for reasons that could be deemed discriminatory, such as gender, race, national origin, or another protected category . An employee may even be terminated simply because there is “'bad talking”, gossip, or a personality conflict. However, if an employee pursues a lawsuit for improper termination, the employer may owe the employee severance pay. Employers in “at-will” states may benefit from understanding their rights and obligations under the law when choosing to terminate an employee without notice.

Below are some of the top questions on the subject answered by legal experts.

Is it legal to fire an employee without a notice or compensation?

Typically, the termination clause is well defined in the employment contract, which states the terms and conditions of employment. Without a contract, the worker is considered to be an employee “at-will”, which means the employee can be terminated for any or no reason at all as long as it is not discriminatory, as prohibited by law. At-will employers are not obligated by law to give a severance pay if they choose to terminate the employment without notice. Such terms of compensation are typically detailed in written contracts.

I was hired by the union and have been laid off without notice citing workforce reduction. What are my rights?

Unions typically ensure the terms and conditions under which an employee can be fired, along with the notice period, severance pay, and compensation requirements by defining these in the employment or labor agreement. While these terms are not governed by law, the contracts are legally enforceable.

You may contact the union representative to enforce your rights under the union contract. If that does not work, you may contact an attorney to file a law suit for compensation.

As a parolee, despite giving full disclosure when I was hired, the new management has terminated me without notice on false allegations of drug abuse.

As Georgia is an “employment at will” state, the employer may terminate the contract whenever they choose without giving reason as long as it is not an illegal, discriminatory termination. Georgia is also one of the three states that does not recognize any of the major exceptions to at-will employment. These exceptions include:

  1. 1. Implied contract exceptions — in which an implied contract restricts the right of the employer to fire an employee even in the absence of a written instrument.
  2. 2. Public policy exceptions — in which no employee may be fired in violation of the state's public policy doctrine.
  3. 3. Covenant of good faith and fair dealing exceptions — in which employer may not terminate an employee in bad faith or on reasons motivated by malice.

However, you may sue for defamation based on false statements made against you. For a successful defamation, as plaintiff, you would need to show that the statement of fact against you was made to a third party, that the statement was false, and that it harmed you.

I was recently terminated without notice after eight months of employment for taking frequent leave for therapy. Is this legal?

You will be eligible for Family Leave Act (FMLA) — which protects your job when you are incapacitated by a serious illness — only if you have worked for a year or 1250 hours in a company. Since, you have worked only eight months and will not be able to use FMLA, you may check if the employee handbook states that you will be given an opportunity to improve before being terminated. If the employer has failed to follow the stated policy, it may establish a disparity in treatment causing discrimination against you. Your recourse may thus be limited.

The doctrine of “at-will employment” means that an employee can be terminated at any time with or without reason. The employee too is free to strike, quit, or cease to work. The government does not interfere with private companies in their process of hiring and firing employees. It is left to the company to ensure that terminations are not based on illegal discrimination and adheres to the implied contract exceptions. It would serve both employees and employers well to know the intricacies of the law in instances of termination without notice.
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